“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.” (Rollo May)
[As we approach the most important election America has ever faced, amidst a global pandemic and critical cultural tipping points, I am revisiting and reexamining some of what I consider the most important elements of kindness, as well as exploring them in context of where we are today.]
I first wrote about the power of the pause in the earliest days of this blog. I marveled at how something so simple could have so much influence on our attitudes and our interactions, and so much power to change us and our world. Instead of responding instantly with knee-jerk reactions to presumed slights or insults—which generally escalates a situation—if we can cultivate the habit of pausing, we can produce the outcome we seek, and not perpetuate bad behavior or exacerbate an adverse encounter.
The pause offers us the gift of grace.
Rather than being an empty space, it is an expectant moment, filled with promise and possibility. It’s up to us, in that fleeting gap, to decide what comes next.
In that brief pause we can ask ourselves:
- Is this worth getting worked up over?
- Am I allowing my buttons to be pushed?
- Is someone else’s jerky behavior luring me to be a jerk, too?
- How do I want this interaction to play out?
- Who do I want to be in this moment?
Even beyond potentially confrontational situations, a pause offers us the opportunity to notice the kindness around us—those being extended to us, and those we might extend to others. In that pause we can think about what matters to us—and if we’ve been consistently living our values. Is our attention in line with our intention?
Why is something as simple as a pause so important to us today?
The Pause and the Pandemic
Over these last many months, we’ve seen so many lives cut short. We’ve seen businesses devastated, jobs lost, homes and futures jeopardized. We’ve seen how many ways our social and healthcare systems can fail certain segments of the population. The world has changed in ways we never imagined—and what it will be like when this is over is anybody’s guess.
In a sense, the pandemic has thrust pause upon us. We’ve canceled travel plans, curtailed social visits, limited our interactions to only the essential. We’ve also learned the value of a judicious pause: remaining silent when our partner leaves dishes in the sink, choosing to overlook a dear one’s brief meltdown, or reining in the impulse to comment snarkily.
I know for many of us—myself included—there is a sense that we should be getting more done. I should be writing the next book, reading Thucydides, and cleaning the grease trap in my stove’s exhaust fan.
But maybe—I tell myself—instead of rushing to fill this pause with activity and accomplishment, I can take some time to acknowledge what’s important to me and to the world, and to reaffirm the choices I try to make daily. Maybe this pause will show me the way to more kindness.
Politics and the Pause
With less than a month before the election that feels like it will determine the fate of the world, the pause is one of our greatest tools for dealing with PESD (pre-election stress disorder).
Before you respond to a negative comment about your candidate on social media … pause. Will your response improve or educate? Or is it more likely to anger and escalate? Use that pause to decide whether your response contributes anything positive, or if it just fuels more negativity. Choosing not to respond—to do nothing—is one of the most powerful choices we can make. If you opt to respond, use that pause to think about how you can convey your message in a respectful and positive manner.
Similarly, before you repost or retweet a message that disparages a candidate or a group of people, use the pause to ask yourself not only is it true, but is it constructive? The purveyors of untruths have unleashed enough lies—let’s not promote or normalize lying. Truth matters.
On November 3rd, or 4th, or 5th, or whenever we know the outcome of the election, employ the pause to be your best self.
If your candidate wins, reserve your happy dance for when you know you are among like-minded people. Withhold smirks and snarky comments for private moments. Try your hardest not to be insufferable. Try to imagine the pain and disappointment of those experiencing loss, even if you can’t possibly understand their positions or their politics. It may feel wonderful to see your views vindicated, but gloating will only divide us further. Pause and ask yourself what’s most important now that a decision has been reached.
And if your side does not win, pause to decide how best to respond. If you can’t accept the results (and I confess that I am not certain I can accept a result that means another four years of injustice and insanity), pause to consider what response will best serve our country, your values, and your continued activism.
One thing is certain: there are going to be people—on both sides—who do not want to heal our country’s wounds, who will strive to maintain a deep rift, and to keep sowing discord and distrust. Let’s not count ourselves among them.
Remember that a pause is not a vacant space. It’s a place of growth and transformation. It’s where we become who we will be.
A pause is the doorway to kindness.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Victor Frankl)